The Untold Truth Of Sara Lee Desserts

Whether you're in the bread aisle, the frozen food section, or the bakery department of a grocery store, you're almost guaranteed to see any number of Sara Lee baked goods tempting you to take them home. Though pre-packaged desserts in general don't always have the best reputation, Sara Lee's offerings always seem to hit the spot. From bagels and coffee cakes for breakfast, to all kinds of pies for the holidays — and a sweet treat for every occasion in between — customers trust Sara Lee to deliver high-quality products at affordable prices. 

If the box has the classic Sara Lee red banner on it, it's safe to assume that whatever is inside is pretty tasty. But Sara Lee isn't just a generic line of bakery items you can conveniently pick up at your local grocery store. With experimental recipes, name changes, several buyouts, and even a shoe polish brand at one point, Sara Lee has a rich history you might not expect.

Sara Lee is a real person

Some of the best food brands in the business take on fictional people's names. There's Betty Crocker, Aunt Jemima, Dr. Pepper, and many others — but unlike these examples, Sara Lee is, in fact, a real person. Taste of Home explains that the Sara Lee brand got its name from founder Charles Lubin's eight-year-old daughter, Sara Lee Lubin (now Sara Lee Schupf). 

Though her father established one of the most well-known dessert companies, Schupf herself never became a professional baker or pastry chef, nor did she become involved in the company that was named after her. But that doesn't mean she keeps away from the kitchen. According to ckbk, Schupf was the longtime sous chef of famed cookbook author Abby Mandel, though she's since retired. 

"I am a cookbook collector, lover of well-designed and practical kitchen utensils, pots and pans, and basically anything to do with food," Schupf told ckbk of her life post-career. These days, Schupf spends her time doing philanthropic work supporting STEM education for young women, according to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. "People do not think of cooking being a science, but it is," she explained of her passion.

The first Sara Lee dessert was a cheesecake

When you think of Sara Lee, chances are their All-Butter Pound Cake is the first dessert that may come to mind. There are countless copycat recipes for Sara Lee's famous pound cake circulating the web, and for good reason. They're really that delicious. But, while you might assume pound cake was the dessert that started it all, the first Sara Lee dessert was actually a cheesecake, and the recipe was created a whole two years prior (via Sara Lee Desserts). 

In 1949, 14 years after he opened his first bakery in Chicago, Charles Lubin perfected his proprietary cheesecake recipe and called it Sara Lee in honor of his other pride and joy. While 14 years may sound like a long time to develop a single recipe, as his daughter explained, "it had to be perfect because he was naming it after me" (via Sara Lee Frozen Bakery).

Sara Lee used to be an actual bakery

Before Sara Lee was a grocery store staple, it was actually a chain of neighborhood bakeries (via Sara Lee Desserts). Back in 1935 when the first locations opened, the chain actually went by an entirely different name — Community Bake Shop. Charles Lubin and his brother-in-law originally opened three locations, and as sales increased, they were able to open four more. 

It wasn't until 1949, however, when Lubin created the Sara Lee cheesecake, that Community Bake Shop was renamed Kitchens of Sara Lee. Though Community Bake Shop was a fruitful business prior to the name change, the new Sara Lee cheesecake helped skyrocket the brand to success. Prior to this point, Community Bake Shop locations only existed in Chicago. But when a customer from Texas visited one of the bakeries and requested that Lubin ship them to Texas, it inspired Lubin to consider wholesale distribution. Though this was unheard of at the time for freshly baked goods, it would nonetheless jumpstart a new chapter in Sara Lee's history.

The company revolutionized packaged baked goods

You may never think twice about the packaging that store-bought baked goods come in, but the reality is, it would've looked a lot different if it weren't for Sara Lee. Not only did the company develop the process of freezing freshly-baked goods for mass distribution, they also invented the packaging for them. In the same way Henry Ford revolutionized the automobile industry by pioneering the assembly line, Charles Lubin did the same for the baking industry in the 1950s (via Sara Lee Desserts), when it branched out from local bakeries and switched to grocery stores. 

Lubin's products were then baked, frozen, and distributed in the same disposable foil baking tins, thereby cutting both time and cost for production and distribution, and overall making the goods significantly more affordable and widely available for customers nationwide. Nowadays, it's extremely common to find all sorts of pastries and baked goods sold in foil containers, but what most don't know is that it's the same exact foil container it was baked and flash-frozen in, and it's Sara Lee who came up with that method.

Sara Lee used to sell clothes and shoe polish too

In 1956, Sara Lee was profiting $9 million in annual sales, and had grown so exponentially that it was bought out by food distributor Consolidated Foods Corporation, owned by businessman and shoemaker Nathan Cummings (via Company Man). Through the years, Sara Lee consistently remained Consolidated Foods Corporation's most recognizable and lucrative brand, and in 1985, Consolidated Foods Corporation ended up changing their entire name to Sara Lee Corporation instead. 

Grocery Dive reports that Sara Lee went on a buying and selling spree during this period assuming companies like Kiwi Shoe Polish and Wonderbra, among others. In 2006, however, Company Man explains that Sara Lee decided to switch their focus back to the food business entirely, and as Progressive Grocer further elaborates, updated their slogan to "The joy of eating." Sara Lee then rebranded all their clothing products as Hanes, sold the rest of their non-food products to Unilever for $1.87 billion (via Company Man), and later in 2011, sold Kiwi shoe polish to S.C. Johnson for $328 million (via Manufacturing). As for their pound cakes and desserts, however, there's little chance Sara Lee will be giving the recipes away, let alone selling them to another distributor any time soon.